Song Challenge Week 21 — A Song You Listen To When You’re Happy

The latest entry in my 30 Day Song Challenge weekly project.

Song Challenge Week 21 — A Song You Listen To When You’re Happy

“The Obvious Child,” Paul Simon

OK, so didn’t we talk about this last week? If I’m happy, I want upbeat.

I would use “Song Of Hope” as my answer, but I’ve already used it for another week, so I’ll try to find something I haven’t used yet to avoid repeating.

I think “Obvious Child” might work. I love the music and tempo, and while I could ramble about the lyrics for a while, at the end of the day, I think it’s going to be OK.

(And, yeah, I know I just posted a Paul Simon song just two weeks ago, but, one, it’s a different Paul Simon song, and, two, I like Paul Simon.)

Song Challenge Week 19 — A Song From Your Favorite Album

The latest entry in my 30 Day Song Challenge weekly project.

Song Challenge Week 19 — A Song From Your Favorite Album

“You Can Call Me Al,” Paul Simon

I’m sure I’ve written about it here before, but I don’t do favorites.

What’s my favorite color? Well, am I wanting to color grass or the sky? What’s my favorite ice cream? What do you have I haven’t tried yet?

But my favorite album? If I were answering that from scratch today, I’d probably take that same sort of attitude. But I’m not, because I locked this one in before I became so hipster.

Back in high school, Paul Simon’s Graceland became my favorite album, and it’s remained such ever since. The impressive part, for me, is that it’s remained so not purely because it was locked in, but because I’ve enjoyed it more and differently as I’ve aged. My love for different songs has ebbed and flowed as the years have passed.

Some of that’s been for literal reasons — I’d never been to the Mississippi Delta the first time I heard about it shining like a National guitar, but went on to spend years there, nor had I stood on a corner in Lafayette, state of Louisiana the first time I heard the song, years before I was engaged to a girl from there.

Some of it’s been a little more general; the themes of aging and relationships and the world we live in speak to me differently as I get further into my life.

Almost twenty years later, these are still days of miracle and wonder.

Have A Good Time

Yesterday it was my birthday
I hung one more year on the line
I should be depressed
My life’s a mess
But I’m having a good time

Oo, I’ve been loving and loving and loving
I’m exhausted from loving so well
I should go to bed
But a voice in my head
Says “ah, what the hell”

Have a good time
Have a good time
Have a good time
Have a good time

Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland
But I think it’s all overdone
Exaggerating this and exaggerating that
They don’t have no fun

I don’t believe what I read in the papers
They’re just out to capture my dime
I ain’t worrying
And I ain’t scurrying;
I’m having a good time

Have a good time
Have a good time
Have a good time
Have a good time

Maybe I’m laughing my way to disaster
Maybe my race has been run
Maybe I’m blind to the fate of mankind
But what can be done?
So God bless the goods we was given
And God bless the U. S. of A.
And God bless our standard of livin’
Let’s keep it that way
And we’ll all have a good time

Repeat and fade:
Have a good time
Have a good time
Have a good time
Have a good time


Ryman Simon Round-Up

Paul Simon at the Ryman. Photo by Heather.

Last week I said I was planning on posting a few more thoughts from the Paul Simon concert Heather and I went to at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, but then I got distracted by the whole getting-engaged thing. Here then are a few more-reviewy details. (I’m basically just typing my notes as I made them, so it’ll be the set list, interrupted by thoughts.)

— We got there a little late, unfortunately, so don’t know what he opened with. The first song we heard was “Dazzling Blue,” followed by “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” He then stopped to do his welcoming comments, including a nice remark that there are few concert halls that make you feel humble just to be playing there, but that the Ryman was definitely one of them.

— After that, “So Beautiful or So What,” which is probably my favorite song from the new album. He had an eight-or-so piece band with him, and it was amazing how lush the arrangements were. But we’ll get back to that later.

— “Slip Sliding Away” reminded me of the Simon & Garfunkel performance I went to last year. During that concert, which was, logically, mainly Simon & Garfunkel songs, I wondered what it was like for him to get up and do a show like that. The songs they were doing were things that he had written forty to fifty years earlier, and he’s done a whole lot since then. Does he have the same affection for the older material? Would he rather be doing newer stuff?

That’s something you read about artists having to deal with — writing a song early on that becomes a hit, and so they have to play it years later to make people happy when they have sort of moved on from it and are getting tired of it.

Point being, that did not seem to be the case at all at this show. Paul seemed to genuinely love and enjoying playing these songs, be it his older classics or the ones from his newest album. And that was neat to see.

— Next up was an unreleased song about Viet Nam, which drove home that we were some of the younger people at the Ryman, albeit not the youngest by far. It says something, though, about the strength of a songwriter when you hope that they’ll play some of the songs that weren’t “good enough” to make an album.

— I’m not sure why, but “Mother and Child Reunion” gave me a bit of perspective on the timeline of his career — the first concert in Central Park was in 1981, he did another a decade later in 1991, and now I’m watching him in concert two more decades later in 2011. I was a bit young to remember the first one, but remember being excited watching the second one.

— There was a similar moment during “That Was Your Mother.” I remember driving to see a good friend in Lake Charles, Louisiana 15 years ago and making a special stop just so I could stand “on a corner in Lafayette,  state of Louisiana” like in the song that I’d loved for years already at that point. The song took on a different significance when I dated a woman from there for a while. And now, with Heather, having kids in my life for the first time, there are slightly different resonances — “You are the burden of my generation; I sure do love you, but let’s get that straight.” Never the same river twice. I’d wondered if I should enjoy the song the same way after the ex connection, but, you know, hearing it there, it’s just too fun to not.

— Also, one of the fringe benefits of being a successful musician, to me, would have to be that you get a free pass on your dancing being cool. You ever been to a concert and see a singer dancing in a way that, if they were just some man or woman in a club, you’d laugh at them, but because it’s their concert, they get to be cool? Totally apropos of nothing, I assure you.

— During “Hearts and Bones,” I made a note about the versatility of the band. Often you might have a horn player who plays different horns, or whatever — different instruments, but in the same family. It makes sense given the diversity of the instrumentals in his songs, but the band he had with him was crazy versatile — almost all of them at different points playing instruments that had nothing to do with each other. It was pretty impressive when you paid attention to it.

— Um, up next was a cover that I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t recognize. It had almost a Johnny Cash sort of country feel to it. After that was “Rewrite,” and then another song I didn’t know, and then “The Obvious Child,” which for me was the only point during the concert that I felt could have been better. I love the song and so probably had a very high standard, but the arrangement they did that night just seemed a little fast, lacking the range of the texture of the original. It’s a very high energy, driving, generally up-tempo song, but with moments that border on brooding, and those moments seemed to get lost in the energy of the live performance. Still awesome, though.

— After that, “The Only Living Boy In New York,” followed by “Love Is Eternal Sacred Light,” which to me was far better live than on the album for the same reason “Obvious Child” wasn’t — it was even more raucous and high-energy and fun. After that, “Questions for the Angels.”

— And then, “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes.” I was more than a little impressed, at the opening, that he and the band he had nailed the depth of the vocals. It was funny to see, though, that even his improv is scripted — they deviated from the studio version of the song, but very closely followed the almost-as-old Concert In Central Park live version, with the stretched out “tananananananana” riff.

— During “Gumboots,” a guy was drumming the strings inside a baby grand piano like a xylophone. ‘Cause they were just that awesome. This was the last song before the first encore, which you knew was coming, because there was no way a Paul Simon concert would end with “Gumboots.” Nothing wrong with it; it’s a good song, but just not a show-closer.

— That said, I assumed the first song of the encore really would be the end — Paul Simon, alone with his guitar, singing “Sounds of Silence” on a barely-lit stage. Powerful.

— The next song could have ended it, too — “Kodachrome.” Its status as a classic was reinforced for me that night when I realized I was listening to Paul Simon sing Kodachrome in an era in which they really have taken his Kodachrome away — the song has outlasted its inspiration.

— Up next was “Gone At Last,” followed by “Here Comes The Sun.” The latter made me wonder briefly what it would be like if somehow The Beatles had recorded music in the last couple of decades. Both The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel began their careers recording brilliant but relatively simple songs, and their work became more complex as they matured. Compare early S&G with “Graceland” or “So Beautiful …”, and there’s a world of difference. Really, the same is true of The Beatles from the beginning to end of their career, but it’s still interesting to think “what if…”

— “Late In The Evening,” as I wrote in my last post, was just a great, fun rock concert performance. It wrapped up the first encore, which was followed by a second, starting with “Still Crazy After All These Years.” Don Everly came out and joined Simon for “Bye Bye Love” and then Jerry Douglas joined him for “The Boxer.”

— The show concluded for real with an awesome performance of “The Boy In The Bubble,” which made me happy with a cool space video playing in the background. Not that it wouldn’t have made me happy otherwise; it’s another favorite. I love how it still rings true years later — twenty years after it was written, it still makes lasers in the jungle sound like miracle and wonder.

So baby don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry.

There Goes Ryman Simon


I reserve the right to post a more detailed review later, but this was the thought going through my head during Thursday night’s Paul Simon concert at the Ryman auditorium in Nashville:

Whatever I do next, I want to love it in the way that Paul Simon appears to love music.

In fact, forget limiting that to career. I want to love Heather the way Paul Simon appears to love music. I want to love the boys that way. My church. Improv. Everything I care about.

I read an article 20 years ago about the 1991 concert in Central Park arguing that Paul Simon is much more a studio musician than a concert musician — that he’s very much a deliberate perfectionist who focuses on getting things “just so” on the recording. Live shows, then, are just an impossible attempt to recapture what was done perfectly in the studio.

And I would agree with that assessment of his studio work. If I had any criticism of his most recent album, “So Beautiful Or So What,” it’s that at times it’s seems too meticulous, too deliberate, too intentional, too perfect; that at times the combined artistry and craftmanship seem to have lost a very little of the feeling.

But I was aware of that perception of his concerts — as well as a perception that he can be a bit dour, dating back to old SNL appearances and the “You Can Call Me Al” video — when I saw him solo for the first time at the Ryman.

I was surprised at how much fun it was.

I guess maybe I was picturing music appreciators sitting respectfully in a performance venue while a respected artist shared classics of the medium.

Late in the evening, Paul Simon played “Late In The Evening,” and it captured the mood perfectly.

When I come back to the room, everybody just seemed to move
And I turned my amp up loud and I began to play

It was late in the evening, and I blew that room away

It was like he was that kid again, with his funky electric guitar, having fun rocking for a crowd that was eating it up.

We were having fun. He was having fun.

“Love Is Eternal Sacred Light,” from the last album captured the dichotomy for me. It’s perfect on the album. It’s raucous live. Both are great. They’re just different.

And that’s how Paul Simon seems to love music.

He loves it devotedly.

He loves it as a studio musician who pours himself into it, studies it, wants to understand it, wants to do it right, wants to be dedicated and meticulous and deliberate. He invests, and works, hard.

But he also loves it passionately.

When he was on stage Thursday night, he looked like there was nowhere he would rather be. He looked like he couldn’t be having more fun that night than he was having on that stage playing those songs.

And that’s what I want — I want a job that I can love in a way that engages me and I’m absolutely dedicated to doing and doing well, but that I enjoy. I want to be to Heather and the boys someone who loves them devotedly and works hard for what’s best for them, but who also can’t imagine anything more fun than being with them.

Devotion and passion. I don’t think that’s too much to strive for.

Paul Simon — “So Beautiful Or So What”

Updated 7 Feb. with “The Afterlife” link

Paul Simon So Beautiful or So What album cover

OK, this post serves basically two purposes.

One is that after posting the video for the first single for the album, I’ve already started getting some search traffic with people looking for information about it.

The other is that, after my experiences being contacted by and working with publicists for Jewel and Lori McKenna, this is a desperate plea for an advance review copy of the new album. (I previously got a little bit of attention on some Paul Simon forums for my post about the Simon and Garfunkel performance at Jazzfest in New Orleans last year.)

That said, it was a sad statement of my fandom when I had to learn about the new CD on Facebook when my friend and former coworker Maggie posted the video.

If you haven’t seen the video, I posted it a while back, and, while the single is available on iTunes, you can download it for free on the official Paul Simon site.

The album drops on April 12, as a CD, deluxe CD/DVD and vinyl record. (Amazon currently has only the CD/DVD combolisted for pre-order.)

The first single will also be the first track, full track listing is (with versions and info currently available, subject to change):

  1. Getting Ready for Christmas Day ( Lyrics )
  2. The Afterlife
  3. ( Streaming )

  4. Dazzling Blue
  5. Rewrite ( Lyrics )
  6. Love and Hard Times ( Live Performance | Lyrics )
  7. Love is Eternal Sacred Light
  8. Amulet ( Cover Video | Preview | Lyrics [Unsure if SBOSW version will be same])
  9. Questions for the Angels ( Lyrics [This song was released as a single on iTunes but withdrawn])
  10. Love and Blessings
  11. So Beautiful or So What

PaulSimonWeb has an extensive article about the album, with some interesting information. Going through the links above, the officially released first single is the only one that’s in a form that reflects the final product, so I’ll be very eager to hear what the actual album sounds like.

Several sites are reporting that Simon has said it’s his best work in 20 years, which would be back in the Rhythm of the Saints era (and would slight only You’re The One and Surprise, and possibly Capeman, depending on what he counts).  It also supposedly has a bluegrass influence; though apparently refers to Quicksilver playing on two tracks, not necessarily the entire album; a mix of styles and influences would be typical of a Paul Simon album, and would indeed hearken back to the Graceland/Rhythm era. (Regardless of what the final version sounds like, the current Spanish version of Amulet is another indicator of that sort of direction, as is, of course, the funky feel of the first single.)

For now, the first single is interesting, the cover is very pretty, and the other hints about the album are intriguing. I look forward to hearing the rest of it. (Hint, hint.)

Nothing Changes On New Year’s Day

Years ago, science fiction grandmaster Arthur C. Clarke wrote a book, a sequel, titled “2010.” It was about the future.

The future is now past.

It’s a new day. A new year. A new future. Not the one that the book, or other futurists envisioned. But an amazing one nonetheless.

As Paul Simon wrote of a different past future, “these are the days of miracle and wonder.”We live in an amazing age, of amazing possibility.

Heather wrote a post recently about “Rediscovering the Art of Lost Treasure.”  I think Bill Watterson said it well: “There’s Treasure Everywhere.”

Make resolutions if you want. Don’t if you don’t. The truth is, a good year is the one that isn’t defined by the things you wanted at its beginning, but the one that is defined by things you never would have thought to dream, by the hidden treasure. Go. Find yours.

I’ll see you out there.

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” -Roald Dahl

Getting Ready For Christmas Day

My former coworker Maggie posted this on Facebook over the weekend, somehow, embarrassingly, it had escaped my notice that there’s a new Paul Simon single out, and that its heralding a new album, “So Beautiful Or So What,” coming out in April. Like a little Christmas present in and of itself.

I’m not entirely sure what I think of the new song; it’s a little off-beat, but almost by-the-numbers Paul Simon off-beatness. I think I like it, though. And if history is any indicator, the album will be sufficiently diverse that there’s no point trying to predict what it will be like based on one song.

Linkdump And Stuff

OK, I’m so behind on blogging it’s unreal. Sorry. Someday I’m going to start writing the posts that I’ve been meaning to since, like, February. But not today. Today, though, I’m going to clear out some of my blog fodder folder.

Life on Mars

So apparently that Mars meteorite that became famous on my 21st birthday really is evidence of life on Mars, according to the people who said it was 14 years ago. The relevant thing is, fewer people are saying it isn’t. At this point, I wonder what, short of actually sending people there, it would take to say conclusively that Mars has or has had life, and what the impact of that would be. Just not sure it would be that big a deal anymore.

Defying Gravity

I saw this story recently about country star Keith Urban going on a Zero G flight that managed to annoy me from both country music and space buff perspectives. On the former front, it fails to mention the rather obvious connection that Urban’s last album was Defying Gravity. On the science front, the article explains how the whole microgravity flight works: “The plane obviously traveled high enough to get out of gravitational pull.” Well. Obviously. Sigh.


It made me rather happy to see that my post about the Simon & Garfunkel concert was discovered by a couple of forums, 2010 Tour Reviews (starting w/ #24) and, and that at both places it got positive feedback. Always nice when words find homes.

Mississippi Days

It was weird going on my Facebook the day after the Mississippi tornadoes a couple of weeks ago and seeing two updates from the Mississippi Press Association in my feed, one from the Choctaw Plaindealer in Ackerman, and one from Gary Andrews at The Yazoo Herald. During my career in Mississippi newspapers, Gary was my general manager when I worked in Houston, and I was general manager of The Plaindealer. It’s been a while since I left that world, but the connections are slow to fade.

Purely Referential

Homesteading Space was mentioned recently in an article about design expert Raymond Lowey. It always makes me happy to see the book cited as a reference, though I’m curious in this case how the mention was even discovered.

Alot of Humor

The Alot is Better Than You at Everything

The Plans I Have…

Relevant Magazine has an article on why Jeremiah 29:11 is the most misused verse in the Bible. The ironic thing is, I have long felt this, but for reasons entirely different. And I don’t know whether it’s misused most badly, but it probably is misused most often. It’s everywhere (and was particularly prevalent when I was going through DivorceCare): “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Among other things, the article’s issue with the verse is that people stop there; that, really, if you’re going to cite that verse, you need to go on to verses 13-14: “You will find me, if you seek me with all your heart … and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you.” It’s not just, “sit back and I will do awesome things for you,” there’s some amount of personal involvement there, as well.

The article also makes a good point that I do like — that even the promise in verse 11 must have been very disappointing to its original audience. The people were in exile, and the situation, to be blunt, kinda sucked. They probably would have preferred that God, you know, do something about it. Instead, He comes back with this promise — don’t worry, I’ll do something about it in the future. Maybe not even in the lifetime of the people receiving it. Probably not what they were looking for.

My issue with the verse is completely different. My issue is that it’s a specific promise, at a specific time, for a specific people, about a specific issue. We would like to think that it’s relevant to us, that God is saying that he has a plan for me, of future and hope. And it does sound like the sort of thing he would say. But that doesn’t mean this verse is for me. Yes, there are plenty of Biblical promises that you can claim personally. But, really, claiming this one is no different than saying God has promised that you’ll be the mother of the Messiah or the father of a great nation or will lead your people out of bondage. Yeah, those promises are in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean they apply to you.

A Year in the Life


Funny Because It’s Sad Because It’s True

From Overheard in the Newsroom, about the demise of payphones:
Editor: “Where would Superman change nowadays?”
Reporter: “Change? Where would he work?”

“Can You Imagine Us Years From Today …”

“The first thing I remember, I was lying in my bed
I couldn’t’ve been no more than one or two
And I remember there’s a radio, coming from the room next door
My mother laughed the way some ladies’ do

Well it’s late in the evening, and the music’s seeping through”

I don’t remember not knowing Simon & Garfunkel. How old was I when I first heard El Condor Pasa? “I’d rather be a hammer than a nail…” I don’t think I ever didn’t know that song.

I remember when I became aware of Paul Simon as a solo artist. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world when I found out this guy with this catchy song on the radio was the “Simon” from “Simon and Garfunkel.” I went back to check to make sure he wasn’t also the “Paul” of “Peter, Paul & Mary,” another fave of the time. It would have been, what, 1986. Halfway through middle school.

“A man walks down the street, he says, ‘Why am I soft in the middle now? Why am I soft in the middle; the rest of my life is so hard.'” I’m not going to claim that I really understood the song about a roly-poly little bat-faced girl and dogs in the light and being someone’s bodyguard and calling them Betty.

Heck, for that matter, it would be decades before I really began to really understand the song at all. “Whoa my nights are so long. Where’s my wife and family? What if I die here? Who’ll be my role model, now that my role model is gone, gone?” I needed a few incidents and accidents of my own.

And that’s long been the appeal of Paul Simon for me. Yes, he’s a musical genius, with an uncanny ability to synthesize musical styles into something that becomes entirely his own, crossing genre from one song to the next in an album while still creating a cohesive whole. Whether the musical style is from South Africa, South America or south Louisana, it’s still, without question, a Paul Simon song.

But for me, that’s lagniappe. For me, the appeal that crosses through that, what makes a Paul Simon song a Paul Simon song, is that he’s one of the most brilliant lyricists of our time. He’s a brilliant writer, with an uncanny ability to capture the human condition, and the fact that he can make that writing fit music is incredible.

My musical tastes have changed over the years. Artists come and go. Entire genres come and go. Paul Simon remains. From the time I had developed having tastes of my own until today, there has never been a point where Paul Simon was not one of my favorites, because there has never been a time when his music doesn’t speak to something deep within me. With most artists, I eventually tire of their music or outgrow it. With Paul Simon, I grow into it. Every year that passes gives me a deeper understanding, a deeper appreciation, a deeper identification.

This month marked the first time I met my old lover on the street last night. Well, granted, it wasn’t the street, and, frankly, she didn’t seem so glad to see me she just smiled. But it was that much more real. Still crazy after all these years, indeed. (And, of course, she was from “Lafayette, state of Louisiana” and loved the sound of a train in the distance.)

It turns out that losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you’re blown apart. And, sometimes, even music cannot substitute for tears.

Fat Charlie the Archangel was right about filing for divorce. And I don’t want no part of this crazy love either.

But that’s all part of it, isn’t it? I’m older than I once was, but younger than I’ll be; that’s not unusual. Paul Simon gets that. He’s marked the passage of time, and its effects on us, from the very beginning. He was twenty-one years when he wrote a song about the leaves that are green turning to brown. He’s sixty-eight now, but he won’t be for long.

And that was what made seeing Simon and Garfunkel in concert Saturday such an interesting experience. I’ve long wanted to, and for the longest time believed that even just seeing Paul Simon was an unreasonable goal. But in January, I crossed off the penultimate item on my concert wish list and so decided it was time to look seriously at the ultimate one. When I saw they were going to be at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, I had to go.

It was an amazing concert. It was incredible hearing the songs live. It was great knowing that I was seeing them live, in their presence, for the performance. It demonstrated how blessed I was to be hearing live songs I had listened to with Heather at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland just three days earlier.

But it added something to the experience that not only was I seeing Paul Simon, not only was I seeing Simon & Garfunkel, I was seeing them in 2010. When they were 26, the duo released a song where they talked about how terribly strange it would be to be seventy. Now, that’s only a year and a half away.

That song wasn’t sung Saturday, but, intentionally or not, the theme was present from the very opening line of the concert — “Time, time, time, see what’s become of me.”

I’ve grown up with their music. Heck, they’ve grown up with their music. Most of the songs they did were 40 to 50 years old. Can you imagine? But there, that Saturday, there we all were. Memories brushing the same years.

For a while there, it seemed the years had not rocked so easily while rolling past Art Garfunkel; the voice that came out when he began singing was not the perfectly smooth, beautifully sweet one of the albums. But it turned out that it wasn’t age that was the issue; he was sick. Despite that, he poured his heart into the concert, getting everything out of his still-amazing voice that he could. It was obvious to the audience how much he was giving, and it was deeply appreciated — I had the rather unusual pleasure of being at a Simon & Garfunkel concert where the star of the show was indisputably Art Garfunkel. And it was obvious that meant a lot to him as well.

The duo closed the show, pre-encores at least, with Bridge Over Troubled Water, which is completely driving by Garfunkel’s voice. And he poured himself into it, obviously struggling, obviously suffering, but pulling it off. And during the song, Paul Simon looks over, sees him, and just rests his hand on his shoulder, finishing the song that way.

Old friends, indeed.